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A Rochester family’s tree house in jeopardy: ‘I was hoping for her to have years of memories in it'

Chris Shanahan built the tree house for his daughter, Lily, three years ago and now it is in jeopardy of being taken down.

Posted: Jul. 16, 2018 4:23 AM
Updated: Jul. 16, 2018 8:27 AM

ROCHESTER, Minn. – With heat, electricity, and a rooftop view, the Shanahan’s backyard tree house is more like a dream house.

Chris Shanahan is a contractor and built it for his daughter, Lily, three years ago.

“For Lily... just thought it would be kind of neat to do something fun for her as a kid,” he said.

He didn’t know what exactly he was going to build when he built it but said he did check with city officials before he did.

“It wasn’t an issue with Building and Safety because they don’t regulate treehouses. Then the Zoning Department didn’t give me a real straight answer, they just said it shouldn’t be a problem, basically,” he said. “So I just went ahead and built it knowing that something like this could happen.”

For three years, the treehouse was exactly when Chris had wanted, a place for Lily to play.

“She's had a couple sleepovers in it and her friends love it. A lot of people will stop by and take pictures of it so it draws a fair amount of attention, all positive,” he said.

That is, until now.

After an anonymous complaint, the city inspected the treehouse and found it breaches three city ordinances. The violations include being too close to an alley way and too close to the lot line. The structure is also 24 feet tall, a good amount over the city’s 15 feet maximum height requirement.

The Shanahan family now has to choose what to do. They can either change the structure to meet city requirements, take it down, or apply for a Variance from city officials, which would allow them to keep the treehouse as is.

“We're going to look into taking steps to save it but we don't want to burn $1,080,” Chris said. “It’s kind of expensive with no guarantees.”

Applying for a variance costs $760. If it’s not approved, it’s another $360 to apply for an appeal to that decision.

The Shanahans have also started a petition with a list of signatures and community members saying they’d like to see the house stay.

“Worst case scenario I can take it down or whatever, easy enough, but it would just be kind of sad to have to do that,” Chris said. “Obviously I built it for Lily. She has a lot of fun in it I was hoping for her to have years of memories in it.”

The family has to make their decision by August 20th. Rochester City Council will be briefed on the situation at its Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday July 16. 

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